Hunger Games versus Camus

etrangerI’ve grown weary of trying to work my way through a book about Saussure in French, and thought that maybe I should take my ambition down a notch.  I tried a French translation of some Stephen King stories.  Forget it–super-hard vocabulary.  I’m halfway through a bilingual French/English book about British serial killers, but it has both languages on facing pages, so I’m not sure that it counts.  I was in a train station bookstore today and saw a French translation of “Hunger Games,” picked it up, saw that I could mostly understand it, and resolved to pick up a copy at an independent bookstore later in the day, rather than the chain bookstore that I was in. This evening, I walked into a tiny bookstore that I like in my neighborhood.  I wasn’t actually sure how to say “Hunger Games” in French, so my conversation with the proprietress went something like this:

Me: “Ma’am, have you of the books for the youth, teenagers?”

Bookstore Proprietress (BP): “Of what age?”

Me: “True-y, it is for me.  I speak not well French, and I am looking for a book that I may understand.  Do you have “The Hunger Games”?

BP: “De…’unger…Gamez?  What is that?”

Me: “What you would suggest?”

BP: (rummages around in crowded shelves, pulls out Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”) “You will like this.”

Now, I know exactly what “The Stranger” is, having read it, in English, years ago.  It’s a classic of French existentialist literature.  No way am I going to try to read it in French.

Me: “I have already readed the book in English.  I CANNOT read it in French.”

BP: “Yes, you can.  I have recommended this book before for people who are trying to improve their French.”

I flip through it, pick out some random paragraphs, and I’ll be damned if she’s not right: I CAN read it!

Me: “You are right!  I can read it!”

BP: “Yes–I’ve owned this bookstore for 41 years.  Give it a week, and if you don’t like it, bring it back.”

I take the book up to the counter to pay for it, shaking my head in amazement.  I thank her, as politely as I am able.  “You are obéissant,” says Madame Bookstore Proprietress.  I think to myself, “I hope like hell that means ‘polite,'” smile, take my change, and leave. Back at home with my book and a couple of small cheeses, I check my dictionary.  Ooh, SNAP!

  • obéissant: obediant.

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